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San Diegans Reflect On 10-Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery from August 28, 2005.
NOAA
Hurricane Katrina satellite imagery from August 28, 2005.
San Diegans Reflect On 10-Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina
San Diegans Reflect On 10-Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina GUESTS:Tanis Starck, assistant dean of College of Education, San Diego State University Chris Van Gorder, CEO, Scripps Health

This is KPBS midday edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. President. Obama is visiting the scene of the one of the worst disasters in US history today. 10 years ago this week, residents along the Gulf Coast prepared for Hurricane Katrina as it made a straight line for New Orleans. Few Americans will forget images of what came next. The desperation of hundreds who took shelter in the Superdome in New Orleans. Confrontations between citizens and police as people tried to leave the city and above all, the floodwaters, the destruction in the bodies of those who didn't survive. Today we look at San Diego's connection. Joining me are Tanis Starck, assistant dean of College of Education, San Diego State University. 10 years ago, she and her husband lost their home in New Orleans. Chris Van Gorder, CEO, Scripps Health, He dispatched with a medical team to help with the needs of survivors. Welcome to go What do you remember about the days that led up to Hurricane Katrina? What was the mood in New Orleans? It was a wonderful 90° weather, 97% committee, sunshine and discuss. A typical New Orleans day. We had heard there was a hurricane that had moved through Florida. They always do when they come off the coast of Africa and then swing back out. Being in New Orleans and hurricane season is July to November. Things are going along nicely, was the first day at Tulane moving. My husband in Loyola, also welcoming our new students. We noticed have hurricane started moving into the Gulf. It was still not really a concern. Similar to having a small tremor here in California. People not used to that are also quite frightened. Imagine now, both are seeing a little storm come to the Gulf that they see every year. This was our fourth time of seeing tropical depression or small category hurricane in the Gulf. It was business as usual. Not only are used to tropical depression, you are used to Pixar's. I am wondering, as the forecasts increased and the strength of Hurricane Katrina was increasing, how do people usually get through big storms in New Orleans before Katrina? Did they say inside early time? Most stage, he stocked up on food and water, normally the power would go out. People in town would move from two more uptown areas to a friends house. Sometimes they would even have hurricane parties were they would gather together and hunkered down. It was a sense of this happens all the time ago we have gone through this so many times, we never received a direct hit, it would always turn to the East or West. That same attitude we had that day. What eventually made you decide you had to leave town? Being a Californian and not used to floods, every time there was a hurricane or tropical storm, we evacuated because of my nervousness. I didn't know what to expect. One time I recall be in a restaurant with a colleague in a heavy downpour, the water rose to the handles of the car, known in the restaurant even batted an eye. I was panicked and they were come -- home. This is the spirit of what happens. I was still nervous. Whenever there was a storm coming I thought maybe we should leave and get a hotel. Each time this happened, that's $1000 your spending for a few days. This was a financial burden to have to consider having to evacuate every other month or six weeks. Not being used to that, I always got into a panic. We had just come back four weeks prior to this from another evacuation. Our bags were still stuffed from that time. I husband was upset that we had just got back and I was still panicking. We kept watching the weather report and as the ball got larger, I panicked. All the hotels are already booked when I called. That's when I felt, we have to get out. You are part of a massive exodus out. What was that scene like? It was awful. They had changed the highway as you can only go one way out. You can only go six hours to the East to get to Atlanta or six hours to the West to go to Texas. Were driving around 3 AM. The first mile or two, there is nobody on the road. We kept going in right before we got the border everything stopped. There with thousands of cars to the highway, that's what I truly panicked. It looked like a refugee camp. It was lots of tense and people with their belongings on their cars to be the current carriages. We apparently caught up with the people who had evacuated from the looker district local parish. It was too many people and we thought of my goodness, something is going on. After the hurricane hit, after large sections of New Orleans, Scripps health became involved in a. We established our medical response team after 9/11. The intent was to support our into here in San Diego, not just to wait and have people come to the hospital. Once we saw what was going on, we reached out to searching general who we knew very well. He knew about the medical response team and the capability. IMA is in charge. Literally the day, we have healthcare systems that are on my list to call. You guys are number one because I know what you can do. It was a Saturday a day after the director stepped down that we got a call asking us to deploy. At that point he said you want to be deployed in 24 hours. Were not sure where we will send you but we will send you somewhere. We deployed to Houston Texas. The Houston convention center was not as chaotic as the Superdome. It was daunting. You wrote about what it was like inside the asked Astrodome. I wrote this on September 14. I was struck by the image of 1000 cots filling up the entire floor in the Asheville. Evacuees posted signs looking for lost relatives. Their cots covered by stuffed animals and one with an elderly couple talking to a TV media crew. Their people trying to sleep but there was no way to eliminate the noise. I felt our group was invading the privacy of these people. Hopefully they will not have to stay long. What other images stick in your mind? Our initial reaction which was similar to the Astrodome, there are a number of facilities being used, there with thousands of people. The University of Texas medical center set up a hospital in the convention center with Mobil pharmacy and x-ray. Temporary beds for people to stay in until we could find a hospital to admit them to. They were exhausted. We've been called to relieve the University of Texas in the convention center. Another thing we also got chased out by hurricane Rita. I went into that traffic, it took us 20 hours to drive would normally be two hours. As they were evacuating the Astrodome, we went back there to help. Now the people we had seen a couple days earlier, they were obviously away from home and living in austere conditions, it was their home. There is a single line of people and they were angry. These are people that had been in the dome in Orleans a transfer to Astrodome and they were angry. Katrina was more than a devastating storm. It was a powerful national expense. We saw how society can break down and divisions of class and race. What you think we've learned from that part of Katrina? I'm hoping we have taken this as a teachable moment, especially for our future leaders. When I started hearing from a lot of my students who are displaced and friends who were being mistreated. Relatives that were left in trees were authorities with flyby of an ASCII food, during the food down from a helicopter and nasty water and expecting them to wade out there and he that. Then the media showing groups of people coming out of buildings with food in diapers on their back and saying they are there to give food for their families. If they see other people from ethnic background in the same thing saying they are looting. I started really looking at was happening. Resulted in me writing a book looking at the social justice of this whole situation. Where there are class differences in cultural differences, the reasons why it took so long to help a particular group of people that were left in New Orleans at that time even though there were a variety of places there, they are predominantly African-American. It sets the stage for you to prove start looking at how we care for our fellow man regardless of race, gender, social economic status. Here in America. It really started bothering me when I would hear stories from our students who were actually turned away because they were looked upon as being vagrants. You decided, Dennis, not go back to your home that was flooded out and rebuild in New Orleans. Why? I was emotionally moved by the lack of care for large group of the population there. I felt I could do a better job by being the voice of those who couldn't speak out. Being in the field of education and coming back to my home state which is California. San Diego state was welcoming of students who were displaced and faculty, so my husband and I were able to live in the residence halls for a year. During that time, I started seeing the inequities they're going on in New Orleans a political perspective, healthcare, educational perspective, environmental. The fact that to the trailers. I really began to feel we need to train our student leaders there are going to be moving in these positions in the coming years, let's look at our cultural competence. This is what I did not come back because it was still in a very bad state, it still is. We had nothing to come back to. Chris, this is quite an emotional experience for your team as well. What did you get from that experience? I think we took care of probably 500 patients a day and started in the convention center and went out to the community clinics and is a very large Vietnamese population that got evacuated to Houston that came from Mississippi. We learned about how did we respond to what kind of medical professionals who take 74+ the support team at home, 26 positions that we didn't bring were psychiatrists and psychologists. For so many posttraumatic stress issues that we were able to deal with all of our nurses and doctors but not adequately. The emotion was minus. I would never forget of an African-American elderly gentlemen, everyone else had cleaned up and in the middle of this hall, he is sitting on his cot walking back and forth. He said, I can't move again, one more time. There was a police officer that try to help and encourage him to move in one of our physicians burst into tears. Emotional side of all of that. Retreated a woman whose son died in the bus overturn. I will never forget her story. She came in very anxious almost unable to breathe and our nurse who is taking care of her, just hugged her. As he hugged her, she relaxed and said I was just planting my flowers in New Orleans and I lost my son. Maybe it's time for me to replant the flowers of my life and start over again and thank you for your help. That's just one of many conversations like that. We left and went back in after Rita but we all left feeling like we left the job undone. I have almost no more time to talk about this. I am sorry about that. I'm wondering how each of you is going to be marking this 10 year anniversary? Purse, I want to thank you for having us on your program. It's a great step in the way I am working this time. I'm happy to be teaching a class on campus called counseling and social change. Will be talking about issues happening here and how we can all be advocates for one another. Italian market in my classes today. Our young psychologists and psychiatrists and social workers to be ready to take on that challenge of changing our world here in America, one person at a time. That's how I am marking this time, thank you for having me. Might is a little less global. I will be going through. I reread the emails and lots back a lot of them vividly. I would like to thank all the doctors and nurses and support team at Scripps are willing to leave on a moments notice to go anywhere in the world. Our first mission outside San Diego was Katrina and the Gulf. After that, we went to Haiti and did great work there. RT just came back Nepal. We learned something every time we go and I am so proud of the people that are willing to leave their lives and help others. I think we always go on these missions feeling like we came back with the job not quite done. I want to thank you both. Tanis Starck, assistant dean of College of Education, San Diego State University And Chris Van Gorder, CEO, Scripps Health.

Tanis Starck outside her home in New Orleans attempting to retrieve any belongings that survived flooding in this undated photo.
Aaron Starck
Tanis Starck outside her home in New Orleans attempting to retrieve any belongings that survived flooding in this undated photo.
Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, is pictured inside the Houston Convention Center in this undated photo.
Scripps Health
Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, is pictured inside the Houston Convention Center in this undated photo.

Ten years ago this week, residents along the Gulf Coast were anxiously anticipating where Hurricane Katrina would come ashore as the major storm headed straight for New Orleans.

By the time she made landfall, Katrina had become a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 to 104 miles per hour across 400 miles. It was the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, being responsible for nearly 2,000 deaths.

Tanis Starck was living in New Orleans in 2005 and was one of many displaced by Katrina.

As the hurricane approached, Starck and her husband joined a caravan of evacuees heading west.

"We saw thousands of people with furniture on top of their cars, suitcases on the back of their trunks, and babies, teenagers, senior citizens, complete families of eight or 10 people stuffed in one car pulling U-haul trailers with all their possessions, including their pets stuffed on top of each other," Starck said.

She later learned their condo was completely gutted by floodwater and all their possessions were lost.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, teams of aid workers from around the country went to affected areas to give assistance. From San Diego, Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder led his team of more than 200 physicians, nurses and administrative employees to Texas to treat patients at Houston's Convention Center and surrounding community clinics.

Van Gorder kept a journal and emails from his experience. He said a sea of as many as 1,000 cots lined the floor of the Astrodome.

"As we walked around the perimeter, we saw that giant board where evacuees posted signs looking for their lost relatives," Van Gorder said. "There were cots covered by stuffed animals and there was a cot with an elderly couple talking to a TV media crew. There were people trying to sleep but there is no way to eliminate the noise. In a way, I felt like our group was invading the privacy of these people - walking around their bedrooms, their homes. Hopefully, they will not have to stay for long."

Van Gorder and Starck, who is assistant dean at San Diego State University's College of Education and author of "And Her Name Was Katrina: Life After The Storm," will share their stories about the hurricane and its aftermath Thursday on KPBS Midday Edition.

San Diegans Reflect On 10-Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina